Deer bringing death to Minnesota's moose

Josephine Marcotty, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Outdoors

"No, I don't think a harvest strategy designed to increase deer numbers is helpful for moose," said Mike Schrage, wildlife biologist for the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa. That permit area, he said, "contains some of our best remaining moose country."

Steve Merchant, the DNR's wildlife populations manager, said that if protecting moose were the only consideration, cutting deer numbers would make sense. But human politics influence the agency's decisions, too, he said. There are, after all, far more deer hunters than moose in that part of the state -- some 11,000 bought permits to hunt there last fall.

"Some deer hunters don't think we should worry about moose," Merchant said. That's not the majority, he added, but there are some who think 'why should we care for moose, I can't hunt them,' " he said.

Bowe, the taxidermist from Duluth, had an even more fatalistic perspective.

"If you believe in the theory of global warming, moose are at their southern range and won't be able to survive anyway," he said. "That's my take on it."

Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said that it could make sense to lower deer numbers in moose range, but only if there is clear science to support the benefit and a transparent public process that goes with the decisions. In the meantime, the association is part of a $3 million project to improve moose habitat through logging to encourage patches of new forest growth and better forage.

What about the snails?

At the University of Minnesota, scientists are studying a third species that could change the equation: snails.

Deer and moose have to eat "tens of thousands of snails to be infected," said Tiffany Wolf, an animal epidemiologist at the U's School of Veterinary Medicine, who is working with the Grand Portage band to solve the puzzle. She wants to do genetic research that could reveal which snails end up in moose and deer feces and could help break the cycle of transmission.

Because tamping down on the number of snails, she said, would be a much easier sell than getting rid of the deer.

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